Prussian Monarch More Than War King

By Osborne, Ken | Winnipeg Free Press, April 30, 2016 | Go to article overview

Prussian Monarch More Than War King


Osborne, Ken, Winnipeg Free Press


Frederick the Great, King of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, made his kingdom one of the most powerful states in Europe and laid the foundation for the later creation of a united Germany. He also stands as a prime example of what historians once called "enlightened absolutism."

Not least, his life is fascinating in its own right.

In this widely acclaimed biography, Cambridge University historian Tim Blanning shows Frederick as statesman, soldier, warlord, musician, author, patron of the arts, palace builder, philosopher and tireless administrator, while not neglecting his many-sided private life, including his much-debated sexuality.

Frederick's Prussia was one of many co-existing German states, each with its own ambitions and all vulnerable to the pressures of Russia, Austria, France and even distant Britain, whose kings were also rulers of Hanover. Describing himself as "the first servant of the state," Frederick decided Prussia needed a powerful army, backed by a strong economy and a loyal citizenry, to protect its scattered territories, which stretched across northern Germany from the Rhine River to Poland.

Within months of becoming king, Frederick annexed the Austrian province of Silesia, sparking a series of wars that lasted for more than 20 years. In all this, Blanning argues, Frederick was simply playing the 18th century game of power politics, as he had in 1772 when he schemed with Austria and Russia to grab a large chunk of Poland.

Frederick is best-known for his wars, though Blanning shows he lost almost as many battles as he won and often was saved from his own mistakes by the skill of his officers and the discipline of his troops.

Blanning persuasively argues Frederick was determined to show he was a more successful king than his father had been. As a boy, he was brutally mistreated by his father and tried to escape to England, only to be caught, jailed, and forced to watch the beheading of the friend who had helped him. …

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